County town

A county town in Great Britain or Ireland is usually, but not always, the location of administrative or judicial functions within the county. The concept of a county town is ill-defined and unofficial. Following the establishment of county councils in 1889, the administrative headquarters of the new authorities were usually located in the county town of each county. However, this was not always the case and the idea of a "county town" pre-dates the establishment of these councils. For example, Lancaster is the county town of Lancashire but the county council is located at Preston.

The county town was often where the county members of Parliament were elected or where certain judicial functions were carried out, leading it to becoming established as the most important town in the county.

Some county towns are no longer situated within the administrative county. For example, Nottingham is administered by a unitary authority entirely separate from the rest of Nottinghamshire. Many county towns are classified as cities, but all are referred to as county towns regardless of whether city status is held or not.[citation needed] The term was also used historically in Jamaica.

UK county towns, pre-19th-century reforms

Historic counties of England

This list shows county towns prior to the reforms of 1889.

County County town
Bedfordshire Bedford
Berkshire Reading,[a] previously also Abingdon[2]
Buckinghamshire Aylesbury,[b] although the county is named after Buckingham
Cambridgeshire Cambridge
Cheshire Chester
Cornwall Truro[c]
Cumberland Carlisle[d]
Derbyshire Derby
Devon Exeter
Dorset Dorchester
County Durham Durham
Essex Chelmsford
Gloucestershire Gloucester
Hampshire Winchester, although the county is named after Southampton[3]
Herefordshire Hereford
Hertfordshire Hertford
Huntingdonshire Huntingdon
Kent Maidstone[e]
Lancashire Lancaster[f]
Leicestershire Leicester
Lincolnshire Lincoln
Middlesex Brentford, Clerkenwell, the City of London or Westminster for different functions.[g]
Norfolk Norwich
Northamptonshire Northampton
Northumberland Alnwick[h]
Nottinghamshire Nottingham[i]
Oxfordshire Oxford
Rutland Oakham
Shropshire Shrewsbury
Somerset Taunton,[j] although the county is named after Somerton
Staffordshire Stafford
Suffolk Ipswich
Surrey Guildford[k][clarification needed]
Sussex Chichester or Lewes[l]
Warwickshire Warwick
Westmorland Appleby
Wiltshire Trowbridge although the county is named after Wilton [m]
Worcestershire Worcester
Yorkshire York
  1. ^ Lent assizes were held at Reading, where the county gaol and house of correction were situated; summer assizes were held at Abingdon, which was the site of the county bridewell. Knights of the shire were nominated at Reading and elected at Abingdon.[1]
  2. ^ Sir John Baldwin, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, caused the county assizes to be moved to Aylesbury. Knights of the shire continued to be elected at Buckingham. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica considered Buckingham to be the county town.[1]
  3. ^ The county assize court sat at Bodmin, and the 1911 Britannica considered Bodmin to be the county town. Prior to 1835, it was Launceston.
  4. ^ Knights of the shire were elected at Cockermouth; the assizes and quarter sessions courts were occasionally held at Penrith in the middle ages.
  5. ^ East Kent and West Kent had separate administrations until 1814, with East Kent sessions meeting at Canterbury, and West Kent at Maidstone, the over-all county town.
  6. ^ In 1787 the Lancashire Quarter Sessions decreed that in future the annual general sessions for transacting all business for the county at large should be held at Preston as it was "a central place in the county." The magistrates of Lonsdale Hundred refused to accept the decision, and would meet only at Lancaster. The matter was settled only when a local act of parliament (38 Geo.III c.58) established that the principal administrative business of the county could be transacted only at Preston.[4]
  7. ^ Knights of the shire were elected at Brentford; sessions presided over by Middlesex Justices of the Peace were held at Clerkenwell; trials for persons accused of the most serious crimes took place in the Old Bailey before the Aldermen of the City prior to the committing of the accused to Newgate Prison (which functioned as the county gaol for Middlesex) if found guilty; while the county council had its headquarters at the Middlesex Guildhall in Westminster from its establishment in 1889 until its abolition in 1965.[5]
  8. ^ Alnwick's position as the county town seems to have been based largely on its castle being the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, although knights of the shire were elected at the town too.[6] Assizes for the county however were held mainly or exclusively in Newcastle upon Tyne. Morpeth Castle was used as the prison for Northumberland, and the county gaol was built there in 1824.[7][8]
  9. ^ Nottingham was constituted a county corporate separate from Nottinghamshire in 1449. The area containing the Shire Hall however remained an exclave of Nottinghamshire.[9]
  10. ^ Knights of the shire were elected at Ilchester. Somerton temporarily became the county town in the late thirteenth century, when the shire courts and county gaol were moved from Ilchester.[10]
  11. ^ Under an act of 1791, the justices of the peace of the county of Surrey were empowered to build a new sessions house and county gaol at Newington adjacent to the borough of Southwark and in the suburbs of London.[11] By 1799 the buildings were completed and the county administration was based there until 1893.[12] Newington, or more inaccurately Southwark were sometimes described as the county town thereafter, for instance in a school textbook of 1828.[13]
  12. ^ Horsham was occasionally described as the county town of Sussex due to the presence of the county gaol and the periodic holding of the county assizes and quarter sessions in the town. The last assizes were held there in 1830, while the gaol was closed in 1845.[14]
  13. ^ Wiltshire County Council note that Wiltshire "never had a well recognised county town". Wilton had served as the seat of quarter sessions and for election of knights of the shire until 1832. Knights had been nominated at Devizes.[15] An 1870s gazetteer describes "Salisbury and Devizes" as the "county towns".[16] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica names only Salisbury.

Historic counties of Scotland

County County town
Aberdeenshire Aberdeen[a]
Angus (or Forfarshire) Forfar
Argyll Lochgilphead (formerly Inveraray)[b]
Ayrshire Ayr
Banffshire Banff
Berwickshire Duns (formerly Berwick-upon-Tweed, formerly Greenlaw)
Bute Rothesay
Caithness Wick
Clackmannanshire Alloa (formerly Clackmannan)
Cromartyshire Cromarty
Dumfriesshire Dumfries
Dunbartonshire Dumbarton
East Lothian (or Haddingtonshire) Haddington
Fife Cupar
Inverness-shire Inverness
Kincardineshire Stonehaven (formerly Kincardine)
Kinross-shire Kinross
Kirkcudbrightshire Kirkcudbright
Lanarkshire Lanark[c]
Midlothian (or Edinburghshire) Edinburgh[d]
Morayshire (or Elginshire) Elgin
Nairnshire Nairn
Orkney Kirkwall
Peeblesshire Peebles
Perthshire Perth
Renfrewshire Renfrew[e]
Ross-shire Dingwall (also the county town of Ross and Cromarty)
Roxburghshire Jedburgh (formerly Roxburgh)[f]
Selkirkshire Selkirk
Shetland Lerwick
Stirlingshire Stirling
Sutherland Dornoch<[g]
West Lothian (or Linlithgowshire) Linlithgow
Wigtownshire Wigtown[h]
  1. ^ In 1900 Aberdeen became a county of a city and thus outside Aberdeenshire.
  2. ^ Inveraray (the seat of the Duke of Argyll) was regarded as the county town until 1890, when the Argyll County Council was created with headquarters in Lochgilphead.
  3. ^ The headquarters of the Lanark County Council were established in 1890 in Glasgow. In 1893 Glasgow became a county of itself, and was therefore outside the council's area. The county council moved to Hamilton in 1964.[17]
  4. ^ Edinburgh was a county of itself, and therefore lay outside the county of Midlothian.
  5. ^ The headquarters of Renfrew County Council were in Paisley from 1890.
  6. ^ Newtown St Boswells was the administrative headquarters of the county council established in 1890.
  7. ^ The headquarters of Sutherland County Council were at Golspie from 1890.
  8. ^ Stranraer became the administrative headquarters of the Wigtown county council in 1890, and was sometimes described as the "county town" thereafter.

Historic counties of Wales

This list shows county towns prior to the reforms of 1889.

County County town
Anglesey Beaumaris
Brecknockshire Brecon
Caernarfonshire Caernarfon
Cardiganshire Cardigan
Carmarthenshire Carmarthen
Denbighshire Ruthin (formerly Denbigh)
Flintshire Mold (formerly Flint)
Glamorgan Cardiff
Merionethshire Dolgellau
Montgomeryshire Welshpool (formerly Montgomery)
Monmouthshire[a] Monmouth[a]
Pembrokeshire Haverfordwest (formerly Pembroke)
Radnorshire Presteigne (formerly New Radnor)
  1. ^ a b Between 1536 and 1974, Monmouthshire was included by successive English and later, British, governments within England for some administrative and legal purposes. Always regarded culturally and ecclesiastically as part of Wales, particularly by the Welsh, since 1974 when new local government legislation was introduced it has unequivocally been within that country. The county is named after Monmouth, but the Sheriff's county court was held alternately in Monmouth and Newport.

Historic counties of Northern Ireland

County County town
County Antrim Antrim
County Armagh Armagh
County Down Downpatrick
County Fermanagh Enniskillen
County Londonderry Coleraine
County Tyrone Omagh

Note – Despite the fact that Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, it is not the county town of any county. Greater Belfast straddles two counties (Antrim and Down).

Other Languages
català: County town
español: County town
Simple English: County town
slovenščina: Glavno mesto grofije
中文: 郡治